Currently Reading: Trent Dalton – Boy Swallows Universe | Anna Burns – Milkman
I have been in the van for almost three months now, working on the peach farm in Jerrawangala, which is located in the Shoalhaven region of the NSW South Coast.
The peaches have been delicious and I really enjoy working for the family who run the farm, but we have had a pretty hectic season this year, with bushfires burning through the area for weeks as they made their way around the country, followed more recently by rising waters as the drought finally broke in a big way. Last weekend the farm recorded 400mm of rain over three days. Despite these extreme weather events, the orchard has remained intact, and it’s been business as usual, with fantastic support from the local community. We are down now to perhaps three more days of selling left for the season.
As regards the fires, it used to be that one part of the country would flare up during summer and we would recall particularly bad years by a given name, like the Black Tuesday fires in Tassie from ’67, which left 62 people dead and several thousand without homes; or the Ash Wednesday fires of ’83, which resulted in 75 deaths in South Australia and Victoria; or the Black Saturday fires of ’09, which decimated the Kinglake and Marysville communities in Victoria, claiming 173 human lives and up to a million animal lives.
The Black Saturday fires prompted the introduction of an entirely new fire danger rating: ‘catastrophic’, eclipsing the ‘extreme’ rating that used to top the scale. The catastrophic warning was forecast for Sydney for the first time this bushfire season. Each of these disasters has been found to be the result of a combination of elements: heatwave, extended periods of drought, lightning strikes, arson, low humidity and gale-force winds, to name a few. In each case, the ferocity of the fire, and the toll on human and animal life has been unprecedented.
The Sussex Inlet Road:
This season, the fires cannot be allocated a name based on a specific region or day or date, as they have been burning for months, and have travelled the length and breadth of The Great Dividing Range, as well as large swathes of South and West Australia, and small pockets in Tasmania. Last summer, all of Tassie seemed to be on fire, which may afford some protection this fire season. The fires continue to burn out of control in several parts of Australia, and are anticipated to continue for several weeks to come, as hot and dry conditions extend well into April in some parts of the country.
At least 34 lives have been lost so far this season, including those of 6 fire-fighters. Most of our firies are volunteers, who put themselves in the path of danger to protect lives and property, without pay. Massive fundraisers have been held to raise money for the under-resourced fire departments in each state, along with the Red Cross, Salvos, and countless other charitable organisations, as the long process of helping people rebuild lives, homes and communities in the wake of devastating losses gets underway.
WIRES (and equivalent wildlife rescue organisations in each state) are also raising money to assist with the rehabilitation of animals that have been injured and/or displaced due to fire, with the toll on creaturely life estimated to be over a billion (and into the billions if we include insects), with predicted potential mass species extinction. I’m making a point of keeping a record of each species I encounter in the wake of the fires.
So it is not all doom and gloom. With the rains have come our first glimpses of the recovery to come. While some communities have weathered destructive waves of both fire and flood, there is an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the moisture that is once again permeating the air.
There might not be community consensus about the handling of the situation by our politicians (at local, state or federal level), but with the exception of those directly impacted by flood, no-one is complaining about the rain.
I’ve been working 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, but have managed to fit in a short hike most weeks. Now that the peach season’s almost over, I’ll have more opportunity to update the blog more regularly. Details about the walks I’ve done to come!
Books Completed: Margaret Atwood – The Testaments | Sally Rooney – Normal People | Kristin Newman – While You Were Breeding